The Gophers' defense could be even better in 2015 as it returns seven starters from a team that held opponents to 24.2 points per game last season.
Anchoring the second level of the defense is senior linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, who will be asked to provide leadership in place of now-graduated linebacker Damien Wilson. Campbell was called one of the ten most underrated players in the Big Ten by Athlon Sports, and now he's being recognized as one of the top players at his position in the country.
On Tuesday, Campbell was among 51 players named to the Butkus Award Watch List. The Butkus Award goes to the best college linebacker in the country.
As a redshirt junior last season, Campbell finished third on the Gophers with 75 tackles; he added 2.5 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss and returned an interception for a touchdown in Minnesota's road victory against Michigan.
Campbell has taken his leadership role seriously this off-season. In May, ESPN profiled Campbell's desire to win this year's rematch with TCU. The blowout loss to the Horned Frogs has stuck in Campbell's mind ever since, and he's been preparing by watching film from the game with hopes to compete at a higher level when the two teams meet at TCF Bank Stadium in the season opener on Sept. 3.
"It’s never too early to get ahead," Campbell said. "But of all the games we played, that one is one that bothered me -- especially later in the season once I saw what they were accomplishing. Because I felt like this was a really good team, but we could have competed with them a lot better.
"I’m not taking anything away from them. I’ll still stick with my opinion that I think that was the best team we played last year."
TCU beat the Gophers 30-7 and finished the season 12-1 with a blowout victory over Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl.
Campbell might not have a more difficult player t0 defend this season than TCU's dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin. The Heisman frontrunner was excellent against the Gophers, passing for 258 yards and two touchdowns while adding 92 rushing yards.
Campbell and the Gophers will get a shot at revenge 51 days from Tuesday.